* Warning may refer to possible Turkish naval escorts
* U.S. seeks to repair ties between two Middle East allies
* Obama, Erdogan to meet in New York later this week
(Adds quotes, background)
By Arshad Mohammed
NEW YORK, Sept 19 The United States urged
Turkey on Monday not to do anything to worsen its relationship
with Israel, U.S. officials said on Monday, seeking to prevent
relations between two U.S. allies from deteriorating further.
One official offered no details but may have been alluding
to the possibility of the Turkish navy escorting aid flotillas
to the Gaza Strip ruled by the Hamas Islamist group, which the
United States and Israel regard as a terrorist organization.
Israel's May 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killed
nine Turkish citizens and the idea of future Turkish naval
escorts raise the possibility of a military confrontation
between two major U.S. allies in the Middle East.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered the
message in a nearly one-hour meeting with Turkish Foreign
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that also touched on the Cyprus
dispute, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Syria's brutal
crackdown on protests against the four-decade Assad
Israel's refusal to apologize for the flotilla incident has
angered Turkey, an ally of the United States through the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization, and a growing economic power.
"She encouraged Turkey to keep the door open," a senior
U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said after
Clinton and Davutoglu met ahead of the U.N. General Assembly
session that opens this week.
"We want to see them repair their relationship, so she
encouraged them to avoid any steps that would close that door
and, on the contrary, to actively seek ways that they can
repair (their) important relationship with Israel," he added.
"The secretary made clear that this is not a time when we
need more tension, more volatility in the region," a second
official said, apparently referring to Israel's deteriorating
ties with Egypt and Jordan and tensions with the Palestinians.
WATCHED WITH DISMAY
The United States has watched with dismay as
Turkish-Israeli ties began to unravel in late 2008, after
Israel outraged Turkey by launching an offensive against the
Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas.
After the release of a U.N. report on the flotilla, which
aimed to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, Turkey expelled
Israel's envoy, froze military cooperation and said the Turkish
navy could escort future aid flotillas.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has kept up a stream
of harsh rhetoric on Israel, using a tour of Arab states last
week to support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United
Nations and dismissing Israel as a spoiled client of the West.
The two countries previously worked closely together on
military cooperation and intelligence sharing, as both had
sought reliable partners in a volatile neighborhood.
Their relationship is sure to come up when U.S. President
Barack Obama and Erdogan meet in New York this week for talks
expected to cover Turkey's neighbors Syria and Iran as well as
In a gentle rebuff to Turkey, an official said Clinton
repeated the U.S. position the internationally recognized Greek
Cypriot government had the right to search for gas in the
Mediterranean and that this should not undermine talks to
resolve the dispute over the divided island of Cyprus.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by
a brief Greek-inspired coup. Current peace talks are the latest
in a series of on-and-off consultations to relink the sides
under a federal model.
Turkey, the only country to recognize the breakaway state
of northern Cyprus, has said any reserves belong to both
communities. The Greek Cypriot government has said it will
block Turkey's talks to join the European Union as long as
Ankara challenges its rights to such energy reserves.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)